Interview with SOPOR AETERNUS & The Ensemble of Shadows
November 15, 2008, 01:34pm
Interview with SOPOR AETERNUS & The Ensemble of Shadows byDeathWish (or Wishy-Washy as his friends call him ... - *grin*)
An enigma can have many purposes, some are there to be solved and stand to teach something from it’s meaning, however some stand to be forever puzzled over and give introspective through simply the search for answers. The latter of the two would probably best serve as an explanation for the strange yet misunderstood SOPOR AETERNUS & The Ensemble of Shadows. Since 1989 Anna-Varney Cantodea and her spiritual partners (known as The Ensemble of Shadows) have been baffling us with hauntingly unforgettable music and imagery. It is however the very mystery behind this embodiment of art that stands to perhaps teach us more about ourselves and our own vulnerability.
I had the distinct honor of interviewing the Goddess herself, opening even my own eyes to her true self. An often razor sharp sense of humor with a hint of sarcasm cannot help to over shadow her direct honesty and realism, mixed with an undeniable artistic gift stands to set her apart from all other interviews I have done. So without further delay open your hearts and minds, welcome to the world of SOPOR AETERNUS & The Ensemble of Shadows:
DeathWish: There is not much known about your earlier years (i.e. childhood or upbringing) what personal experiences in growing up caused you to choose a life of isolation and draw you into creating music?
AVC: The reason why not much is know about my “earlier years” (what a term, I might make that a chapter in my autobiograhy: »Anna-Varney, the earlier years. Read it and weep!«) is simply because I am not walking around advertising it. If it is not in my music, it is of nobody’s business. Period.
However, your question is not an easy one to answer, because there wasn’t a specific single incident that made me the way I am today. As with all shaping processes in life it was a combination of everything I encountered ... basically up until the age of twelve, when I consciously thought about suicide for the first time. I remember it quite clearly, as I had never used that word before, but ever since that day the idea has been with me as a possible option. In fact, I strongly believe that suicide is an essential human right, because the only thing that we, as mere visitors on this planet, really and truly own are our individual human bodies ... - the rest ... is just borrowed. I repeat: the possibility to end your own life is a sacred gift and an essential human right that absolutely NO mortal has the right to take away from you … - no church, no doctor, no judge. This is what I believe. So, if you feel like singing, just join in: »It’s my body, and I die if I want to ... (die, if I want to, die, if I want to) ... you would wanna die too, if it happened to you!«.
One of the many things I had to experience was being brought up in what might best be described as a classical “double-bind” situation ... and that all the way through. Which, by the way, is one of the reasons why the magickal numbers of the SOPOR-chat begin with the figure »2«.
DeathWish: You have described in the past about a childhood trauma that happened while under sedation leading to an out of body experience, can you please describe the experience?
AVC: That out-of-body experience, though anaesthesia-induced, was another manifestation of my general condition: the separation of mind & matter ... or body & soul, if you prefer. I was six years old, and my adenoids (I hope this is the correct English word for those little things you have in your nose ... – no, I’m not talking about piercing-jewellery, kids!) had to be removed. Naturally, I had no idea why, because when I was little, nothing was ever explained to me. In fact, asking questions always led to some form of punishment (or verbal abuse), which is a very sad, if not to say tragic situation for any inquisitive child, because sooner or later he or she will simply give up and just stop asking. Anyway, I was six and (as a “logical” consequence of what I “learned”) already hated myself. At the hospital I was standing barefoot in my towelling pyjama on the cold floor, some doctor was examining me, my mother was crying when she left, which alone was proof enough that something really terrible was about to happen to me. I was lying in a bed in some grey corridor, and when I said I had to pee, an awfully rude head nurse gave me something that, what I thought, looked like a tranparent Lenor-bottle. Partially because I felt watched, embarrassed and obviously vulnerable in this far too public corridor (and partially because I had already abandoned the commonly expected way for a “boy” to piss standing upright a year prior), not a single drop was falling into that fake detergent bottle. After a while another nurse (much younger and actually quite friendly) came to my bed, lowered my pants and (with a jesting »...and now comes a little bee«) a syringe was injected into my right butt cheek. I cannot remember whether there was a second injection, but soon after that little bee (which was in fact a rather accurate description of how it felt like) my bed was moved into the operation theatre, and I started to get very tired. There were many people standing around the bed, a mask was lowered onto my face, and suddenly I could not breathe anymore. I was desperately fighting to get that mask off my face, but the nurse pressed it down again, admonishing: »don’t make such an act out of this!«, which was quite a cruel thing to say, because I was absolutely convinced that these people were going to kill me! – The last thing I saw was some kind of silver tweezer, and then I was gone ...
... I was floating above the scene, looking down at the tiny body of that innocent “boy” with all these strange people around him. I felt great compassion for him and a sense of urgency, so I screamed: »run, get up and run ... what are you waiting for ... get the hell out of there!!!«, but the boy didn’t move. I felt great disappointment, and my initial compassion turned to into contempt: »you stupid idiot, why don’t you try and escape?! If you don’t run, you probably don’t deserve any better!«
That was the moment when my soul and body “decided” to walk separate ways ... which is another reason why the first figure in the SOPOR-chant is the number »2«.
DeathWish: You have referred to yourself as “two-spirited”, some might even describe the idea as a sort of description of possession, would you say they are accurate? Could you elaborate on the phrase for us?
AVC: Possession, huh?! Oh dear, what is it you have in mind now? Don’t tell me it’s everybody’s favourite: the »I am Pazuzu (now give me your crucifix, so I can shove it up my cunt)« episode from that hilariously funny Linda Blair show, yes, otherwise known as “The Exorcist”?! Um, well ... sorry to disappoint you, but ... - no, nothing like that. Anyway, there certainly was a lot less vomiting involved ... - at least on my part.
“Two-spirited” (or rather multi-spirited in my case) is simply one of the many terms to describe a transgendered person. It has nothing to do with being possessed, as there is no spirit, ghost, demon or Avon-lady that is trying to enter your mind and/or body. Thinking about it now, I remember Avon-ladies to be a very interesting matter when I was a kid, probably because they were not allowed in our house. I was told that they only come to whores, but unfortunately it was never exlained to me what exactly a whore was, but obviously these creatures had some sort of interest in make-up and perfume ... - much like myself, I thought.
Anyway, and before I am digressing too far, being “two-spirited” describes a spiritual state or condition one is being born with. It’s like having a foot in both worlds: the male and the female ... or, if you dare to take it a step further: the world of the living and the realm of the dead. However, the use of this term has become rather inflationary these days (like it is with so many things, she added sarcastically), because being “two-spirited” is a lot more than just being a gay boy/man or a lesbian girl/woman. But much like being “queer”, it can be a very isolating (and not to mention frightening) experience when you grow up, because usually there is absolutely no role-model you can turn to for help or guidance. In my case: I grew up in a painfully “straight” environment with straight women and straight men, where there was NOTHING whatsoever in-between ... - I felt like an alien that had crash-landed on a hostile planet inhabited my carnivorous primates (and as it turned out: I was bloody right).
To this day I find it to be a rather strange thing when people at the age of 40 “suddenly” realise that they are gay or lesbian, or when people talk about the day they had their glorious coming-out. I mean, I can empathise, of course, at least to a certain degree ... but what I never understood is: how come they didn’t know before??? And how come that their difference wasn’t obvious to the whole world (at least on a subconscious level)??? As for me, I have always known. At the age of five these things were long crystal-clear to me, even though I had no proper terms to name it. I knew that I was attracted to boys, just as I knew that I wasn’t a boy myself (nor a girl for that matter). The first signs of possible future problems began to rear their little heads when we played “family” in kindergarten ... and I always ended up casting myself in the role of the ugly family DOG.
However, since we are juggling with figures, being of “two spirits” also adds to the reasons why the SOPOR-chant begins with »2«.
DeathWish: When asked about surgical changes to your body you have stated that you would not do it due to a “spiritual conflict”, can you please explain how it is?
AVC: I believe you are referring to what is commonly known as “sex reassigment surgery”, and in so far you are correct: I haven’t undergone that. Why should I? That wouldn’t solve anything for me! In fact, it would only create more and totally unnecessary problems. You see, I do NOT belong to any of the ridiculous categories this pathetic society has to offer ... and I don’t wish to. I am neither male, nor female ... - so what is there to reassign, huh?! I do have an ideal, however, but apart from some seedy back-alley doctors (which are naturally out of the question), no surgeon would ever perform the operations that I desire: the complete and wonderful “neutralisation”, where nothing is left, nothing but a tiny hole so I can still piss. Everything else ... - gone! Yes, such indeed are my dreams.
By now I have lived long enough in this prison of flesh to not feel this heavy weight on my shoulders every second of the day (which, if one takes a closer look, is not entirely true, considering the way I am currently crouched over this keyboard). It’s only every now and then, when the mood takes me, the tides come crashing in with full force and/or I am thinking about my condition for too long ... that I am still reduced to tears ... - but not very often anymore.
I also have never taken any hormones, mainly (and there is that “spiritual conflict” you mentioned) because this would mean that I’d willingly(!) submit myself into a dependency for the rest of my life, because that’s exactly how long I would have to take them ... – and for a soul desperately struggling to be FREE this is an unbearable perspective!!! (Apart from that, even if I wanted to take those hormones it wouldn’t be advisable, as I recently found out, because of my family’s medical history).
DeathWish: I found it interesting that one of your names, Varney, was derived from “Varney the Vampire or The Feast Of Blood”, though in the book it was rather unclear whether Varney was a vampire or simply acted like one. How does this vampire theme reflect who you are?
AVC: Well, some people think that SOPOR seriously sucks (pun alert!), so there is a vampire theme for you right here. (But enough of the frivolity ...).
The only two things that I seem to remember about this story is the fabulously graphic opening scene, and the fact that he (Varney, that is) killed himself in the end by plunging into the fiery depth of a vulcano ... - a very symbolical and obviously purifying, but otherwise rather horrible act. There are many wonderful ways to die, but fire (or lava in his case) is very much at the opposite end of what I would want for myself.
DeathWish: It is known that the “Ensemble of Shadows” is a spiritual force of some sort that influenced you to write music and publish it, how did these entities first appear and why was there an emphasis on releasing the material to the public?
AVC: Oh, the “Ensemble of Shadows” has always been with me ... - as I know now. It’s just that I wasn’t always aware of their presence. I guess, it was after I “discovered” music as my individual release of pain that a certain form of communication began.
Why I release albums? Well, because this is what I am, my form of art and expression, this is my way of communicating with the world ... thought, admittedly, it is more of an inner monologue, because I neither want nor expect an answer from the outside. It’s a bit like sitting on a island, writing SOS-messages, putting them in bottles and eventually throwing them into the sea ... - some of them are caught by the tide and, after a while, get washed back on the beach, while others seem to disappear forever.
To be perfectly honest, I do like the idea of being a mere studio-artist, and not only because I never liked (the presence of) people. To me, art ... which in the case of SOPOR always means a complete album, the sacred trinity of word, sound & image ... works like an exorcism ... - it’s a highly intimate act of purification. In other words: the intention is to get rid of something, and not infinitely sustain the “problem” by supplying it with additional energy, as I would do when repeating the songs over and over again in silly concerts. If you can understand this concept, you will also see how ultimately obscene the mere idea of a SOPOR concert becomes. I mean, that would be the equivalent to publically committing suicide on centre-stage, or like watching a person getting ripped to pieces ... - and than applauding it.
On a more material level and consequently less poetic note, I do financially depend on selling my albums. If I didn’t do this, I would not have any money to professionally record new material … - which I must do, in order to mentally/spiritually stay alive.
DeathWish: While you have stated that the music you write is mainly done as a form of therapy for yourself, is there a part of you that hopes it inspires or helps others who listen to it?
AVC: No, not when I am working. I never think of other people when I am creating. Only when I am literally between two albums, not quite knowing where to go and what to do next, is when such thoughts occur. You have to understand that from my point of view it is complete nonsense to write any material in order to help other people. It’s totally pointless, because all I can really do is to write about myself, honestly and to a certain degree even ruthlessly ... or, as our favourite pale-faced child-abuser once sang: »I’m starting with the tranny in the mirror« ... - or something like this.
DeathWish: On a less serious note I understand that you have come to love Darth Vader, how did this infatuation come to be?
AVC: Well, because he is all black and so wonderfully shiny!
But seriously, the blame is on some (French, I believe, though I cannot quite remember) independent magazine I did an interview for years ago. They tried to be creative, I suppose, so they closed their questionaire adding a brief game of “making-free-associations” by throwing this totally clever (ahem) list of words at me. The first concept they came up with was “black” ... - and I immediately was in complete awe of such overwhelming and totally unmatched creativity.
Now, as a good Goth, what was I supposed to reply? DEATH? Deprrrrrression? DARKNESS even??? Grrrrrrr ... - please!!! Give me a break, boys! So, instead, I decided to play clever bitch and gave them DARTH VADER as an answer. Unfortunately, I had no idea that this would officially turn me into a Star Wars fan. But, that’s what “wank-a-pedia” now says, so I suppose it must be true then.
Funny enough, my “Clock Of The Heart”-reply to their second term “time” didn’t seem to make anyone’s CULTURE CLUB-bells ring ... at all.
DeathWish: There is a great deal of references to Saturn (otherwise known in Greco-Roman mythology as Cronos) in your work, yet unclear if it is merely a figurative figure or an actual symbol of a religiously iconic nature, can you please explain Saturn’s place in your music and personal beliefs?
AVC: No, sorry ... but this is one of the things I am not going to explain.
DeathWish: Based on some of your writings and interviews some have thought of you as a polytheist, would you say this description is accurate?
AVC: To a certain degree.
DeathWish: Most of your material has been written and produced only by you, however the album ‘La Chambre D’Echo’ was assisted in production by Dead Can Dance producer John Rivers, how was this relationship forged and what made you finally decide to work together with John?
AVC: Oh, where to begin? Hmm, OK ... basics first: all SOPOR-material (that is, if it is not a cover-version) is written & arranged by myself ... yes, our utterly beautiful and most beloved GoddessAnna-Varney Cantodea (may everybody please hum the STAR WARS theme now!).
As I mentioned before, recording an album is a VERY intimate act. It requires a safe environment and an adequate atmosphere. Interestingly enough, the older I get and the more albums I record (or, as you might also put it: the more layers I remove), the more sensitive I become to the necessity of these minimum requirements.
Before meeting John, the only thing I knew about him was his work for DEAD CAN DANCE, and though the overall atmosphere of those two particular albums (“Spleen & Ideal” and “Within the Realm of a dying Sun”, which, dear Goth-kids, should better be in your music-collection, if you don’t want to lose 50% of your precious goth-points) is far more pompous and grand than SOPOR (partially because I don’t just sing “lu-la-lu-la-ley” like Lisa Gerrard has made it her silly trademark), there still is an undeniable link between our music ... - and that certainly was a good place to start, because nothing is worse than having to work with someone who has absolutely no idea about what you are trying to achieve. When I eventually phoned him up to get more info on his studio-equipment, the sound of his voice (and the vibration I picked up) ensured me that I was going to be in good hands there.
The term “producer” is actually a rather wishy-washy one, and I wouldn’t be surprised that, if you asked ten different music producers to define their job, you would end up with ten different answers. If you look at the first editions of SOPOR’s earlier albums, you will discover that I have never even used the term “produced” anywhere in the credits, mainly because I never liked that word in the first place (and I also had no clue what it really meant).
Renting studio-time is VERY expensive and (aside from the specific spiritual concept of my work) this alone is reason enough for me to not enter a studio until I am fully prepared. In other words: I only book a studio when the album is 100% finished (in theory that is), so that all that’s left to do is to actually record and eventually mix it. In private, I never listen to music on speakers, only through headphones. This, plus the circumstance that I am not used to the specific sound of the studio-monitors ... in addition to the fact that the time is strictly limited, makes me require a good audio-engineer, someone, who can get me the sound I want and who helps me doing the mix ... - this is what I need John for. Occasionally he also makes suggestions, and occasionally I do not say: »No, how dare you« .
By now we have recorded five albums/EPs, and luckily we seem to get along so far.
DeathWish: The photography for the album was done at Der Narrenturm, was this under your request or that of photographer Joachim Luetke? Why was such a place decided on using for a photo shoot?
AVC: I honestly cannot remember who came up with the idea for the location. I know one criteria was that it had to be somewhere in (or close to) Vienna, simply because that’s where Joachim lives. Once we decided that the Narrenturm (a federal pathologic-anatomical museum that is partially open to the public) could be a nice idea, Joachim went to see the person in charge to ask for permission. Apparently quite a number of “artists” (note the quotation-marks!) had inquired before, but usually only received a big »no« for an answer. As you can imagine, the institute has no desire whatsoever to satisfy the ego-trip of any sicko, who happens to call himself an artist ... - and this sort of place naturally attracts so many of them.
Anyway, we were allowed in, and the entire stuff under headmistress Dr. Patzak turned out to be surprisingly friendly and helpful (once they realised that we actually ARE artists). The result of the two days session was a brilliant 128-pages book/art-print that visually completed the music of the album “La Chambre d’Echo – Where the dead Birds sing”.
Generally speaking, the actual location of a photoshoot is almost secondary in the case of SOPOR, as the result will always suit the concept of the album in question … - simply because of the energy we allow to flow.
DeathWish: In your music you have used a wide variety of musical instruments, from string quartets to synthesizers and drum machines. I have to wonder where did all of your musical training on such a wide variety of musical tools come from?
AVC: Oh, I just do it.
DeathWish: Your material on the compilation ‘Jekura-Deep the Eternal Forrest’ was actually released under the band name of WHITE ONYX ELEPHANTS was there specific reason for breaking from the name “SOPOR AETERNUS & The Ensemble of Shadows” for these releases?
AVC: I needed to create WHITE ONYX ELEPHANTS in order to bridge the gap between the early demo-recordings and the first proper SOPOR-album “Todeswunsch – Sous le Soleil de Saturne”. I cannot explain why. I just needed to do this.
DeathWish: In closing you have been creating musical compositions since 1989, when listening to your music’s evolution through the years what thoughts come to mind on your own personal growth and experience in writing and recording the material?
AVC: Well ... it hasn’t really changed ... nothing has ... because people simply do not change (though they like to believe otherwise). A while ago I was listening to the 2001 album “Songs from the inverted Womb”, and to my surprise I realised that essentially it is the same thing as “Les Fleurs du Mal” from 2007. I mean, yes, music, lyrics, sound and atmosphere are all entirely different ... but essentially it is the same. You can really tell that they are siblings ... - well, I can, anyway.
A good album should be (amongst other aspects, that is) kind of like a tombstone ... a sepulchre, where a part of the artist lies buried. You see, a rough translation of the title of SOPOR’s first CD-release reads: »I kill myself each time, but I am immortal, and I shall resurrect ... - in a vision of Death«.
I think this should give you a good idea about the universe I live in.
*Hums the Star Wars theme* It was nice to have a sort of way to visit Her realm, if only for a short time. I always love hearing about this most brilliant Muse. (Gods I must sound so terribly monotonous x[ )
Wow. In all honesty, I have never heard of her. But this interveiw had me very intrigued and is most enlightening. Such a very interesting person, and one I can find myself finding bits I can relate with, which is not very common. It was quite a read and I'll be sure to look into the music.